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Tidal disruption of stars by supermassive black holes

Academic lead
Dr Chris Nixon, School of Physics and Astronomy,
Dr Adrian Barker, School of Mathematics,, Dr Eric Coughlin, Department of Physics, Syracuse University,, Dr Cheng Chen, School of Physics and Astronomy,, Dr Gabriella Zsidi, School of Physics and Astronomy,
Project themes
Geophysical and Astrophysical Flows

Tides between astrophysical objects are ubiquitous in astrophysics, from planets orbiting their host stars to stars orbiting supermassive black holes in galaxy centres. In many cases the tidal forces can become extreme and comparable to the self-gravitational force holding the celestial body together resulting in its disruption. This can occur in protoplanetary discs when a planet migrates too close to the central star, and in galaxy centres where stars routinely pass too close to the central black hole. The debris from the disrupted object accretes on to the disrupter in a luminous flare. Current understanding of the fluid dynamics of such tidal disruptions is an active area of research, and has been provided fresh impetus by the arrival of all-sky monitoring facilities that detect a large number of such events (e.g. LSST/Rubin Observatory is predicted to find many thousands). While numerical simulation models become increasingly more sophisticated for exploring the dynamics in individual cases, progress is hampered by a lack of analytical understanding. In this project we will test the limitations of current analytical models with numerical simulations, and develop new analytical models that can be applied to populations of systems to enable comparison of the theory with observational data.